Healing approaches

The importance of radical self-care

self-care

By Gemma Kennedy, transformational coach

At the start of May this year, I attended the Bodykind Festival in Totnes, a two-day event dedicated to the revolutionary act of showing kindness to our own bodies in order to change the world.

Something that struck me throughout a day of talks, workshops and panels was the sheer number of people discussing how much work they have put into treating their bodies kindly. After endless years of dieting and self-loathing, doing so does not necessarily come naturally to many.

But the people at the event were setting out on a mission to develop a positive relationship with, and be kinder to, their bodies. While such a shift may undoubtedly change an individual’s life for the better, it also has wider societal implications too because self-care is not all about bath bombs and pedicures. In fact, it includes a whole range of activities and practices, which, importantly, look different for everyone.

Sadly, self-care has to date been co-opted by commercial organisations as yet another way to sell us stuff. The promotion of self-care often focuses on appearance-related products and services, such as face masks and pedicures. But in order to go deeper than that and actually take care of our bodies effectively, regardless of how they look and how we feel about them, something more is required.

In my transformational coaching work, I prefer to use the term ‘radical self-care’, which usually involves practices that cannot be purchased in a shop or day spa. Instead the focus is on making daily life more manageable and enjoyable, which entails taking decisions to support yourself in the best possible way.

Small changes can be made across all areas of life to make things easier. The sum of these small shifts can lead to an altogether less stressful life as well as the capacity to better support others. We have all heard the clichéd advice to put on your own oxygen mask before you assist others, but it really is essential.

Woman Standing By Waterfall With Her Hands Raised

Aligning with your own needs

It is also important that self-care does not become just something else you can fail at – as with dieting or any of the other myriad things we ‘should’ do. Step one of radical self-care is about being gentle with yourself. There will be days where you are unable to take care of yourself as well as you would like, and reminding yourself that this is okay too is vital.

When I start to become self-critical, I like to ask myself whether I would talk to my children or a close friend in that way. The answer is always ‘absolutely not’ and it helps me to shift my inner talk to become more positive and compassionate.

Another issue I have with the mainstream self-care industry is that it requires a certain amount of privilege in order to engage in it. Beauty products, treatments and outings are costly, which means that those who are often most in need of self-care are excluded.

While it is still a privilege to have the time and energy to engage in radical self-care, it is much more accessible. Taking just a couple of minutes out of your day to breathe or move your body in a way that feels good can work wonders.

Other radical self-care activities I engage in regularly include ensuring I eat regular meals that my body actually wants rather than skipping them or eating something I dislike because it is quick; lighting a candle and drinking a cup of tea alone; and taking time to read or journal before bed or first thing in the morning.

But much more radical than any of these is the fact I check-in with myself regularly to ensure that what I am doing feels aligned with my needs.

Leap of faith

Changing yourself – and the world

In the past, I have found people-pleasing all too easy a pastime – and definitely to my own detriment. Setting clear boundaries around what I do and do not want to do, as well as removing myself from toxic relationships, have helped me make huge improvements to my quality of life. If I do not spend my time doing things against my will just to avoid upsetting others, I find I conserve so much more energy, which enables me to do the things that actually bring me joy.

Of course, as a mum it is not always possible to focus on my own needs. But I am open and honest with my children when I require a quiet morning at home or when I cannot play with them because I have to make sure I have eaten something (to avoid my hangry tendencies).

To some, this may sound selfish, but not only is it important to take care of myself in order to be the best parent I can, it is also about modelling radical self-care to my children too. At the ages of three and seven, they are already aware of the importance of listening to their bodies and setting boundaries around what does and does not feel good to them. I hope this awareness will stand them in good stead to help them avoid the pitfalls of things, such as diet culture, that I unwittingly fell into.

So can radical self-care change the world? I mentioned at the beginning that this approach has wider societal implications, and they have become glaringly obvious during my own endeavours in this area. Just as I am able to be a better parent when I show myself compassion, I also have a huge amount of extra energy to plough into my activism and coaching practice. The energy I would have spent on hating my body, or perhaps feeling exhausted by a lack of boundaries, can instead be spent productively on working for actual social change.

For many – myself included – it is one hell of a journey to get to a place where we have positive or even neutral feelings about our bodies. But it is worth every single struggle to arrive at a space where we can contribute to something bigger than ourselves – and feel nurtured in the process.

Gemma Kennedy

Gem Kennedy is a Body Positive activist and transformational coach. Having started her first diet aged 10 and spent many years promising herself that this would be the year to lose weight and start living, a switch flicked in 2017 when she discovered the Body Positive and Fat Activist communities. After training as a transformational coach, she now specialises in coaching and mentoring clients both individually and in groups to help them shed the burden of today’s diet culture and feel confident enough to be in the world exactly as they are, right now.

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Healing approaches

Cultivating mindfulness to support transformational change

Butterfly on zen Stones

By Laura McAvoy, transformational coach

There are many ways to experience mindfulness and meditation, whether through your own daily practice, within an embodiment tradition such as yoga or Tai Chi, or perhaps as part of a practical approach to stress reduction, to name but a few.

Mindfulness might not immediately spring to mind when you think of transformational coaching, with its focus on speaking and conversation to help you move your life forward. Yet mindfulness and coaching can have a big impact if the two approaches are combined – especially if you are feeling ‘stuck’.

It is an absolute truth that we can make a choice and make a change. Yet, deep personal transformation – the kind that brings significant, lasting and meaningful change – can often feel like a long process.

At times of transition – after becoming a parent, during and after illness or bereavement, in mid-life, during menopause or at certain points in our relationships or work – we can be called on to take stock, to turn inward and ask ourselves: Who am I and what do I really want?

Clients who start coaching work are often on the crest of this wave, seeking answers and with an awareness that something needs to move forward but wrestling back and forth in dilemma. They often feel hemmed-in by life circumstances, unsure of whether they have the resources within themselves to create something new and feeling trapped in circular thought patterns based on indecision.

The aim of a transformational coach in this scenario is to shift that sense of inertia or paralysis by helping to liberate their thinking.

If you are feeling stuck and want to start helping yourself immediately though, it could be useful to explore the attitudes on which mindfulness is based, which is an excellent place to begin. According to Emily Johnston, one of my trainers and a long standing mindfulness and wellbeing coach, mindfulness is underpinned by seven key attitudes:

  1. Non-judgement;
  2. Patience;
  3. Beginner’s mind;
  4. Trust;
  5. Non-striving;
  6. Acceptance;
  7. Letting go.

Sit for a while and sample the flavour of each of these attitudes, before combining them with some simple coaching questions. Doing so should help you shift perspective on your current situation.

Non-judgement

If you have been feeling stuck or as if you are not moving forward, your self-talk is likely to involve an element of judgement.

Ask yourself: How am I judging myself in this situation? Where am I placing blame? How is this judgement serving me in either moving forward or staying stuck?

See if you can ease yourself – even if only for while – into a state of non-judgement. Could you re-tell your story using only factual statements without your ‘inner critic’ rising up? If you are unsure, write your story down and read it back as if it had been written by a friend. What would you say to them upon reading it? How does this approach change things?

Beginner’s mind

This is my absolute favourite. ‘Beginner’s mind’ asks us to view our situation with curiosity and to approach it with an almost childlike wonder and openness as if for the very first time, with all of our preconceptions lifted. In other words, look at things as if they offer a new possibility.

Ask yourself: What have I not explored in my situation? What might I have missed? What other meanings could this situation hold for me? What other outcomes may be available?

Trust

Trust plays a crucial part in helping us make a shift. If we do not trust ourselves, our environment or other people, it makes it hard to be free ourselves enough to make the choices we desire.

Ask yourself: Where does my trust lie? What, if anything, is hindering my belief in myself? Who and what can help to support me?

Non-striving

The idea of ‘non-striving’ may seem to go against most people’s idea of coaching, but it actually sits at the heart of transformative practice. Deep transformation involves a process of unfolding, which entails listening in to yourself and being responsive to what arises, and even changing course if needs be.

Ask yourself: How can I bring a sense of more ease into my life? How can I honour the process in which I am finding myself? How can I truly be present?

Acceptance

Once we see things how they really are and are less clouded by judgement, fear and limiting beliefs, such acceptance can be freeing. It is not only about accepting the circumstances that surround us but also about accepting what is rising within us in terms of our emotions.

The discomfort provoked by some feelings could be too difficult to experience, so instead of accepting them and allowing them to express and dissipate, we supress or deny them. But it might also be worth exploring whether we accept the role that we are playing in what is happening too.

Ask yourself: What, if anything, have I been struggling to accept? What might I need to allow to rise within me? What am I feeling?

Letting go

Letting go is a process that naturally follows noticing and accepting.

Ask yourself: What is ready to be released in my life? What thoughts, beliefs, behaviours, relationships, old patterns and habits are no longer serving me? What will support me in letting them go? Where might more forgiveness be helpful?

By questioning your situation with an attitude of mindfulness, you could gain new traction. The story in your head might not be the ‘whole truth’, so it may be possible to find a fresh perspective by engaging in a mindfulness or meditation practice that suits you.

If this suggestion resonates, it may be helpful to find the time and set the intention to cultivate the seven attitudes of mindfulness within you. Just five to 10 minutes of meditation a day can make a big difference if you practice it consistently.

Laura McAvoy

Laura McAvoy provides transformative coaching and dialogue for women. She also offers group coaching courses, coaching circles and 1:1 work, all of which incorporates mindfulness and meditation. Laura works in Saffron Walden, Essex, and the surrounding area.

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Healing approaches

Transformational coaching: Creating space for new possibilities

Woman Juggling Balls

By Laura McAvoy, transformational coach.

All too many women become engulfed in the complexity of family life as they attempt to juggle roles, responsibilities and demands. They often lose sight of who they are, what their desires are and what is truly important to them.

A first indication that a disconnect may have taken place is that people feel flat, generally dissatisfied or ‘stuck’. For some women, this situation can become very uncomfortable, leading either to a numbing and suppressing of that inner niggle, or feeling emotions, such as anger or shame, rising to the fore.

If an individual ends up staying in this zone for any length of time, it can have an impact on their self-acceptance, confidence and resilience, making it harder to break free from a loop of dissatisfaction and inaction.

But this ‘stuckness’ can actually act as an invitation. For, in reality, it is our inner guidance rising up to tell us that something is going on that can no longer be ignored. Something about where we are focusing our energy, time and attention is no longer serving us.

When viewed in this way, the fact we have noticed how stuck we are could almost be seen as a gift – as long there is no self-judgement in the noticing, that is.

This is where transformational coaching comes in as it offers women a way in to exploring the richness of their own power, wisdom and creativity. The aim is to help them tune into their inner guidance, embody their truth and generate significant shifts in their personal and professional lives.

Butterfly on zen Stones

‘Transformation’ is a powerful word, but the work is all about supporting women’s journeys based on a partnership of equality and respect. Women are not ‘broken’ or in need of ‘fixing’ and so their coach does not offer advice. Instead, by means of questioning, reflecting, challenging and space-holding, each individual is trusted to find her own answers. It may sound very simple but it can also be immensely powerful.

By drawing attention to the story a woman tells and gently unearthing old thinking patterns, she is supported to shift perspective and change her beliefs about what is possible. Significant insights usually come to the fore quite quickly and, as a result, she will start to feel less trapped or stale, and instead feel more empowered to move forward with confidence.

I call this being in a space of ‘almostness’. It is a space of possibility. ‘Stuckness’ may alert us to the fact that something needs to change, but when we are willing to accept and relish the openness of being ‘almost’ but not quite there, we often feel empowered to explore things more fully.

The path to clarity is rarely linear though. In fact, it is much more aligned with the circular form of feminine energy. This means that women coming to this work for the first time often feel as if they are being held and understood.

Women can look at their situation, their needs, and how they are being in their own lives knowing that ‘almostness’ is OK. They can spiral around this space, focusing on different angles and perspectives each time until they begin to gain clarity and insight. That is when they will begin to shift – although very often not in ways they had envisaged at the start.

But each client is always in charge of her own journey. How deep any exploration goes and to what extent new thinking is created, or new actions taken, is always the choice of each individual.

Strength

As for me, I am the founder of ‘Open Out’, an organisation that offers transformational coaching and dialogue, group coaching courses and coaching circles exclusively to women. My speciality is in helping competent and capable women, who have got to the point where they want to reassess their lives and feel that they are being called to change – whether that change be physical, situational, emotional, relationship-based, psychological or spiritual.

The coaching experience is often about helping someone return to wholeness, and for many of us that includes returning to the ‘tribe’ of womanhood. But in reality each individual can own any turning point in her life if she notices, engages with, and allows the personal growth that is inherent in each experience.

As a result, I often integrate mindfulness and meditation practices into my work. Mindfulness principles such as focusing on the present moment, accepting things in a non-judgemental way, letting go and the like are really helpful when we are keen to make a shift in life.

But do be careful not to be in too much of a rush to set goals and get to the end point and instead enjoy where you are for now. As the old adage goes, we all have to arrive somewhere before we can depart.

When a woman chooses healing and wellbeing – as is her right – it is often connected with the health of her family, relationships and wider society. I feel honoured to support that reclamation and am always awestruck to see the impact of each individual’s new choices and ways of being as they ripple out in positive ways.

But for anyone who feels ready to start this journey, make sure you find the right coach for you. Coaches come from a variety of backgrounds and have a number of different specialisms and interests, but to ensure your work together is fruitful, it is vital that your relationship is a positive one and you feel their approach works for you. In other words, take the time to find someone who really resonates with you as it will make all the difference in the world.

LauraMcAvoy

Laura McAvoy provides transformative coaching and dialogue for women. She also offers group coaching courses, coaching circles and 1:1 work, all of which incorporates mindfulness and meditation. She works in Saffron Walden, Essex, and the surrounding area.

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Inspiring lifestyles

Undoing the damage done by diet culture

Diet culture
Diet culture

By Gemma Kennedy, transformational coach.

After getting ‘beach body-ready’ for the summer, it is now time to start thinking about how best to fit into our Christmas party outfits – and maybe even how to build up a calorie deficit in the run-up, so we won’t “overdo” it during the festive period. Then, of course, in January, it will be time to shed all the weight we gained at Yuletide.

We will tell ourselves that this year will the one where we lose weight and get to do all of the things we have wanted to do for so long – to try a new hobby or wear a dress we bought ages ago that never quite fit. In fact, you could include any number of items on the list of things our bodies are perfectly capable of doing right now but we are discouraged from doing until our diet succeeds.

I cannot tell you how many times I have made these kinds of promises to myself, stuck in a continuous loop of saying that tomorrow will be better and, when it is not, promising myself that the next day will be the one when I finally crack it.

But around 18 months ago, I started working with a transformational coach to focus on various areas of my life, including work and family relationships. After only four sessions, I felt I had made huge progress, but there was still one area where I felt like a complete and utter failure. I was unable to understand how I could create such positive change in all areas of my life except this one. So I screwed up the courage to name my problem and, ultimately, it changed my life.

Since the age of 10, I had been encouraged to diet and utterly loathed my body. It governed everything I did. I experienced disordered eating, including both binge eating disorder and orthorexia, and have tried every diet you can imagine.

Almost every other adult woman in my life was also dieting off and on too, and yet I felt so alone and ashamed. The thought of being stuck in the cycle of binging and restriction for the rest of my life felt more depressing than I can express, but it was something I thought I would just have to get used to. I could not imagine ever being able to do the things I had always wanted to as my focus was constantly on the size/weight I would need to be before I could.

At that point, my coach asked if she could share some resources with me, which led me to do further research and discover the body positive movement and fat activism. Along with the realisation that I was not alone in this struggle, it also became apparent that it is no coincidence so many people spend their lives on the diet travellator.

Diet culture stems from a constant fat phobia that we are bombarded with from a young age. We are not born thinking that being fat is bad and thin is good, yet we are soon exposed to this idea in many forms.

Body Positive
Body Positive

The impact of society’s fat phobia

As fat activist and author Virgie Tovar points out: “We learnt these things through an ongoing cultural education”. She also notes that in some regions of the world, “women go to extreme lengths to be as fat as possible”.

But in Western culture, fat is assigned a negative image through advertising that depicts models with perfect (thin) bodies, TV programmes that only include a small range of ‘acceptable bodies’ and women’s magazines that tell us about the latest diet that we simply must try. The medical profession also does not help with its constant talk of the “obesity crisis”.

Even if we are able to avoid these influences, however, many of the people around us expend a great deal of energy on dieting, watching their weight, being on a health kick or any other number of euphemisms to drop the pounds.

Interestingly though, anti-diet dietitian Christy Harrison believes diet culture “promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.”

In fact, for the majority of the population, the body shape they aspire to is actually unattainable. A former finance director of Weight Watchers admitted, for example, that a mere 16% of its customers achieve their goals long-term and the company is “successful because the other 84% have to come back and do it again. That’s where your business comes from”.

On the positive side though, there are things you can do. For instance, transformational coaching has been an invaluable tool in my journey towards radical self-love – and it is by no means over. It takes a long time to undo decades of self-loathing and of having such a negative body image, but the freedom I experience from not subjecting myself to the diet culture, and working with others to help them do the same, is liberating.

As you may have guessed, this is a subject I am incredibly passionate about. I spend much of my time trying to dismantle diet culture and encouraging a movement towards self-acceptance and radical self-love. If you are keen to find out more, here are some resources that you may find helpful:

Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe aka Bodyposipanda

Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor

Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker.

Gemma Kennedy

Gem Kennedy is a Body Positive activist and transformational coach. Having started her first diet aged 10 and spent many years promising herself that this would be the year to lose weight and start living, a switch flicked in 2017 when she discovered the Body Positive and Fat Activist communities. After training as a transformational coach, she now specialises in coaching and mentoring clients both individually and in groups to help them shed the burden of today’s diet culture and feel confident enough to be in the world exactly as they are, right now.

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Healing approaches

Transformational coaching: Finding the answers within

Life coaching motivation and self realization concept in blue
Personal transformation

By Gemma Kennedy, transformational coach.

There is a lot of confusion out there as to what transformational coaching is and what a coach actually does. While undergoing my training, for instance, some people thought I was working towards being a sports instructor (although anyone who knows me well will know that sport is really not my forte), while other others believed I was qualifying to be an agony aunt.

But seeing as ‘life coaching’ only really started as a profession in the 1980s as a follow-on from sports and business coaching, this situation is perhaps unsurprising – despite the fact that since then, it has grown into a multi-million pound industry, with around 100,000 life coaches working worldwide.

That it is an unregulated profession also means there are lots of variations on how people practise. But, according to the Animas Centre for Coaching, which is where I undertook my training, the core aim is to enable “a person, group or team to move from where they are to where they want to be, through a process of exploration and action”.

Transformational coaching helps people to identify “where they are now, what the real challenges are that need to be faced, and what mental hurdles need to be overcome. Finally, it creates clear-sighted decisions, specific plans, and committed action. All of this is achieved through a process of focused questioning, objective feedback, and powerful techniques.”

But just to be clear about it, coaching is not counselling nor is it mentoring, therapy or consultancy. It is predominantly focused on the future and can, but is not necessarily always, goal-oriented, for example, helping an individual to achieve a promotion or increase their self-esteem.

Another important thing to note about this approach is that it is non-advisory – clients are helped to find their own answers that lie within, supported in a safe, non-judgmental space by their coach.

Solution, life coaching concept - key on a natural green background
Finding the answers

How it works

Some coaches specialise in particular fields like executive, youth or group coaching and sometimes focus on specific niche areas such as working with mothers who are keen to rediscover themselves after having children or people who want to change careers or transition from one life stage to the next. For others, it is the way they deliver their sessions that is unique – for example, one of my trainers does so in a VW camper van, while another coach I know takes his clients for walks in nature. In other words, there will always be someone somewhere to suit your needs.

Luckily if face-to-face meetings are not possible, many coaches also offer sessions over the telephone or via Skype. A block of six to 10 sessions is usually recommended as this period allows enough time for progress to be made. These sessions may take place weekly, fortnightly or even monthly, depending on what clients want to achieve or the timeframe in which they would like to achieve it.

During the session, clients will be asked to discuss the issue they would like to tackle and a process of exploration gets underway. A simple but highly effective tool here is reflecting back to people what it is they have said using their own words. This gives them time to process what they have said and often leads to deeper levels of realisation.

In my own experience, coaching can be an almost meditative process in which you are deeply connected to yourself in a way that simply is not usual in everyday life. Things frequently emerge that you were not expecting or had not thought previously thought about.

After such sessions, I am often blown away by the sheer amount of internal knowledge I have and the answers that lie within. Knowing that these ‘lightbulb moments’ are based on my own work is incredibly empowering and provides me with agency over the action I choose moving forward.

Each new session also offers the opportunity to check on the progress that has been made towards your chosen goal – or not as the case may be. Sometimes the goal may actually change several times during the course of the journey, but this flexibility to adapt to new realisations or experiences makes the coaching process exceptionally agile.

Strength
Strength

The right chemistry

To anyone curious to give it a try, I would say “go for it!” but always ensure you do some research beforehand to find the right coach for you. Most will offer a free ‘chemistry call’, in which you provide an overview of what you would like to focus on and the coach explains how they work.

As such, I would recommend speaking to a couple of people in order to get a feel for what they offer and what particular style might suit you. Some coaches may not possess any qualifications and, although they may be good at what they do, they might combine their practice with other areas such as mentoring, consultancy or whatever.

While this is not a problem in and of itself if it works for you, it is important for both parties to be clear about expectations in order to build the necessary rapport to enable the true magic of transformational coaching to work.

As to how I first got into coaching myself, I came across it when a fellow home-educating mum was looking for clients to practice on. At that stage, I had little idea myself what coaching was or what we would be doing, but I decided to give it a go and try something new anyway.

Little did I know that the experience would be a life-changing one – both as a client and as someone embarking on the journey of becoming a coach herself. I initially started small, talking to my coach about a new business I was in the middle of setting up. For various reasons, I was experiencing blocks. But within a single session, we had a breakthrough and I was able to come up with a plan for the way forward.

Seeing how effective coaching could be, I was intrigued to use the technique on other areas of my life, including family relationships, my own self-worth and an ongoing battle with disordered eating and body image. It was in this last area where change took place in more ways than I could have imagined – and I have never looked back since.

Gemma Kennedy

Gem Kennedy is a Body Positive activist and transformational coach. Having started her first diet aged 10 and spent many years promising herself that this would be the year to lose weight and start living, a switch flicked in 2017 when she discovered the Body Positive and Fat Activist communities. After training as a transformational coach, she now specialises in coaching and mentoring clients both individually and in groups to help them shed the burden of today’s diet culture and feel confident enough to be in the world exactly as they are, right now.

 

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